It’s All In The Details! (part 2)

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A professional attitude and meticulous attention to detail will set the stage for a successful job search.

Embarrassing stories about job seeker blunders are an inevitable part of every recruiter’s experience.  Frequently encountered examples include answering machines with music blasting or babies crying in the background, candidates who mispronounce the interviewer’s name, refer to the wrong job title, or have grammatical mistakes in their cover or thank you letters.  One incident that stands out vividly in my mind is the candidate who ended her interview by reiterating her interest in our organization.  She expressed her keen desire to work for… our main competitor.

These details may seem insignificant or even humorous.  After all, the recruiter is concerned primarily with your technical skills, professional experience, and industry knowledge, right?

Not entirely.  While it’s true that you are being evaluated in each of these areas, they are not the only focus.  Often, when candidates are comparable in terms of technical skills and experience, the deciding factor will come down to soft skills, professionalism and the ability to demonstrate a meticulous approach and accuracy in your work. This is why the interviewer will pay careful attention to such details during every step of the selection process.

For example, attention to detail is clearly a core competency for a Quality Assurance position, but it is likewise important across a broad range of fields and job titles.  Carelessness breeds mistakes and this is something all hiring managers seek to minimize, regardless of the position.

Through all stages of your job search – from resume editing to job sourcing, networking, interviewing, thank you letters, etc. — your attention to detail is consistently put to the test.  Don’t make the mistake of underestimating its importance in the hiring decision.

Avoid becoming your interviewer’s next anecdotal story by adhering to the following guidelines:

-      Voice-mail: your voice-mail message is potentially the first contact a recruiter has with you.  Be sure it reflects your professionalism and approachability.  If possible, have a separate number that you will use exclusively for your job search and check messages on a regular basis.  Following is a link to an excellent article on the do’s and don’t of voice-mail:  http://www.recordonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20110828/BIZ/108280324/-1/COMM0501)

-      Pronunciation: the meeting may be over before it starts if you offend the interviewer by mispronouncing his/her name.  Confirm in advance the name and title of every individual you will be meeting.  If the interviews are being organized by an agency, your recruiter will provide these details; otherwise, it will most likely be the in-house HR recruiter who will be the source of this information.

-      Job Title & Scope: know what position you are being interviewed for.  Always ask for a job description and familiarize yourself with the requirements in advance.  Armed with this information, you will be prepared to ask intelligent questions about the role, department and business direction of the organization.

-      Accuracy: when tailoring your resume or cover letter to a specific job posting, it is vital to ensure accuracy and consistency.  Often, recruiters encounter cover letters with information unedited from the previous submission to another company.  Guess where those resumes end up…

-      Typos & Omissions: one of the most common and detrimental errors I have seen candidates make is failure to effectively proofread their correspondence.  Your written communication represents who you are as an individual, a professional and a potential employee. Therefore, put as much effort into ensuring that your communication is flawless as you do toward perfecting your interviewing skills.

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BRD vs. FRD/FRS – What’s In a Name?

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We, the IT and business people, are usually more comfortable with concepts that can be given an exact definition than with some vaguely defined ideas which complicate our communication and reduce our productivity. The usage of Business Requirements Document (BRD) vs. Functional Requirements Document (BRD) [or] Functional Requirements Specification (FRS) is a clear example where such miscommunication creates a quite a bit of confusion.

Chiron Business Solutions made a study of over 30 samples of documents with either BRD or FRD/FRS titles maintained by reputable IT organizations (most of them being part of Fortune 500 companies) and found out that there is absolutely no agreement in the industry as to which document should contain which information and to which extent of detail. The main topics covered by the above documents were:  Problem/Solution Statement, Current/Proposed Business Process, Risks, Functional Requirements, GUI, Non-Functional Requirements and Data Requirements.  The confusing part is that, regardless of the name, the content of those documents was pretty much the same. Therefore, here comes a question, what is the principal difference between BRD and FRD/FRS?

Since this question falls into the subject of Business Analysis, we thought that the best resource for clarification would be the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK), maintained by the International Institute of Business Analysis. We started by looking at their definition of the BRD. According to the BABOK, a Business Requirements Document is a requirements package that describes business requirements and stakeholder requirements. To get to the bottom of it, we also need to understand the definition of business and stakeholder requirements, so here they are:

Business Requirementa higher level business rationale that, when addressed, will permit the organization to increase revenue, avoid costs, improve service, or meet regulatory requirements.

Do any of the topics mentioned above sound like a good fit to be included in a BRD? Not really, with the exception of Current vs. Proposed Business Process and, possibly, Risks.

Now, let’s see what a stakeholder requirement means:

Stakeholder requirements are statements of the needs of a particular stakeholder or class of stakeholders. They describe the needs that a given stakeholder has and how that stakeholder will interact with a solution. Stakeholder requirements serve as a bridge between business requirements and various categories of solution requirements.

“Bridge” does not mean the actual solution requirement. It means some transitional information. We still need yet another definition to understand the meaning of a solution requirement:

Solution requirement – a characteristic of a solution that meets the business and stakeholder needs. May be subdivided into functional and non-functional requirements.

Based on these definitions, here comes the moment of truth – solution requirements (i.e. functional and non-functional ones) are NOT the same thing as business/stakeholder requirements. The former should go into the FRD and the latter – into the BRD (which is a collection of high level business needs and is not meant to provide detailed requirements). Whether or not a project needs both, BRD and FRD, depends on its complexity, but it is important to understand the purpose of each one.

Going back to our study, most of the documents that were called BRD were in fact FRD because they contained such things as behavior and information that the solution would manage, i.e. functional requirements. Calling them the wrong name would not really be a big issue as long as this misconception was consistent across the industry. The bigger problem is that, unfortunately, the formatting and contents of those documents are so dramatically different from one organization to another that it makes it very challenging to discuss your understanding of this documentation once you go outside of your particular organization.

BRD/FRD questions have become pretty popular during BA interviews, and answering them becomes a guessing game because it is very hard for you to know what your potential employer considers to be a good definition of BRD or FRD.

Our advice to BA candidates would be to stick to the BABOK definitions (as this is the only industry recognized organization attempting to streamline BA knowledge) and to try to talk through your understanding of the actual concepts (i.e. business requirements and solution requirements) versus how they can be packaged inside a particular document. It is important to let your interviewer know that you are aware of various types of documentation, and your solid knowledge of the above types of requirements and their corresponding usages will help you allocate them properly to the documentation templates used by your prospective employer. Most organizations would expect a Business Analyst not to stop at the business requirements point, but to take them one step further to the solution requirements level. Therefore, you should be equally comfortable discussing both requirements groups to succeed in the interview.

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It’s All In The Details! Poor Gra...

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Regardless of where you are in your life or career, the ability to communicate effectively is one of the keys to success.  As job seekers, we primarily concern ourselves with the interview process and being prepared to answer tough interview questions.  Often overlooked is the importance of written communication – the ability to express our thoughts clearly and concisely using proper grammar, punctuation and spelling.  As critical as having a strong resume and being articulate in person, written communication skills are a reflection of a candidate’s professionalism, attention to detail and education.

As a recruiter, I always advise candidates to send a “thank you” letter following a job interview.  However, this recommendation comes with a caveat:  you must be meticulous in ensuring that your letter is well formulated and grammatically correct.  If done well, an impressive thank you letter can speak volumes about your motivation, initiative, professionalism and attention to detail.   On the other hand, a careless and sloppy effort may well cost you the job.  Following is one memorable example:

Working as a corporate recruiter, I once interviewed a candidate who made a strong impression with the hiring manager, department and HR.

It was decided that an offer would be extended.  Over the course of the next few days, while the details of hire were being finalized, the hiring manager and I each received thank you letters from the candidate.  Between the two letters, there were numerous typos and grammatical mistakes, which raised serious concerns about the candidate’s communication skills and attention to detail.  Since these were core competencies for the position, the hiring manager reconsidered the job offer.

Here are a few guidelines to help make the best possible impression during your job search:

  • Check all written communication for correct grammar and spelling. Do not rely exclusively on spell check.
  • Enlist the help of someone with strong writing skills to proofread.
  • List a current e-mail address that you check on a regular basis.
  • Avoid using an eccentric or unusual e-mail address.  Opt for one   that is clear and professional (e.g.: john_smith@gmail.com).
  • Update your voice-mail message so that it sounds businesslike.
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